Fox News played a portion of Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) speech at Howard University where he claimed "I have never wavered in my support for civil rights or the Civil Rights Act" without noting his long history of controversial statements regarding the anti-discrimination law.
During a recent visit to Howard University, a historically black college, Paul claimed that "no Republican questions or disputes civil rights" and that he has "never wavered in his support of civil rights or the Civil Rights Act." Fox News aired Paul's claim and reported on his visit as "an effort to reach out to the youth and minority vote" and added that the senator urged the students to be open "to the Republican message":
But Fox ignored Paul's previous comments on the Civil Rights Act that contradict his statement to Howard students. Paul has been asked on several occasions about his stance on the Civil Rights Act, where he answered "I abhor racism... but at the same time I do believe in private ownership." The Washington Post reported that in a 2002 letter to the editor to the Bowling Green Daily News, Paul claimed a "free society" should allow "hate-filled" groups to discriminate based on race. From the article:
"The Daily News ignores," wrote Paul, "as does the Fair Housing Act, the distinction between private and public property. Should it be prohibited for public, taxpayer-financed institutions such as schools to reject someone based on an individual's beliefs or attributes? Most certainly. Should it be prohibited for private entities such as a church, bed and breakfast or retirement neighborhood that doesn't want noisy children? Absolutely not."
In language similar to the language he's used talking about the Civil Rights Act, Paul criticized racism while defending the right of businesses to discriminate.
"A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination," wrote Paul, "even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin. It is unenlightened and ill-informed to promote discrimination against individuals based on the color of their skin. It is likewise unwise to forget the distinction between public (taxpayer-financed) and private entities."
Paul explained that he was against public sector discrimination, but felt the Constitution gives citizens with private businesses the right to discriminate against people based on the First Amendment. After his 2010 election, he was asked about his views on private discrimination by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow where he responded:
MADDOW: Do you think that a private business has the right to say 'we don't serve black people'?"
PAUL: I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form, I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But I think what's important about this debate is not written into any specific 'gotcha' on this, but asking the question: What about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking? . . . I don't want to be associated with those people, but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things freedom requires.
Paul's comments to Maddow sparked outrage in the civil rights community. After the show, NAACP president Ben Jealous challenged Paul to a debate over his "opposition to certain aspects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." He explained:
In Mr. Paul's world, a white gas station owner would be completely within his rights to deny service to a black family traveling on a holiday road trip. But say the family took a stand - refusing to leave the station until they were allowed to fill their tank or buy a snack. Do we honestly accept that it is the role of the municipal police force to step in and protect the owner's "right" to discriminate based on race? That they should arrest and charge the offending family for trespass?
The fact is that the world is far more complex than Mr. Paul's college dorm theoretical exercises would suggest.
Does Rand Paul defend, for example, the right of banks to not extend mortgages to people of color? Even in communities without other banks to compete? Should the government never be allowed regulate private business. Even for health and safety reasons? Honestly, I don't think Mr. Paul has thought these positions through very deeply. That is is why I have challenged him to study up on the subject and discuss them publically.